On Thursday London is going to elect a new Mayor. Supporters of the Lib Dems should, of course, give their first preference to Caroline Pidgeon *. But thanks to the supplementary vote system we get a second vote, and where we put that vote really matters.
Here's three reasons why I believe that Lib Dem voters should give Sadiq Khan their second preference on Thursday.
1. Zack's campaign doesn't deserve to win
I've been involved in some tough election campaigns and, as a campaign manager, have never pulled my punches when pointing out why my opponent is the wrong choice. So I have no problem at all with so called "negative" campaigning. I also don't believe that the character or conduct of candidates (as opposed to their policies) are off limits in an election, and this is especially true when electing someone to a position of personal authority (to be Mayor of London, for example).
However, those attacks have to be based in truth, they have to be in some way relevant to the choice the electorate is making and they have to do more damage to your opponent than they do to you.
Zack Goldsmith's campaign fails all of these tests and so many more.
His strategy is simple - exploit people's existing prejudice to make them scared of each other and scared of Labour's (Muslim) candidate. The campaign has been doing this via targeted direct mail for weeks now, but last weekend (in the campaigning equivalent of a shit-or-bust last throw of the dice) they broke cover and produced one of the most offensive newspaper stories in the history of British politics.
I actually felt sick reading this. If Zack was previously indulging in dog whistle politics he's dropped the whistle and picked up the foghorn.
This article basically says (and it doesn't even try very hard to disguise it) "Muslims blew themselves up in London, so how can you trust a Muslim to be mayor?". It's borderline xenophobic, offensive to the diversity of the city I love and an embarrassment to the candidate who signed off on it. If the BNP produced this pile of bollocks we'd shrug our shoulders and be thankful that most people treated them as the bunch of racist nutters that they are. The fact that the official Conservative candidate has put his name to this is genuinely shocking.
It's not just that this is a bad election strategy, it's bad for London. We live in one of the most wonderfully diverse cities in the world, a model for multiculturalism. This kind of campaign does genuine damage to that and, in a tragic irony, could well cause exactly the sort of alienation of young Muslims that we know can have such awful consequences.
There is a sad epilogue to this. I'm told by people who know him that Zack Goldsmith is a nice guy. He's an environmentalist who has some genuinely progressive ideas about how to make the Conservative party fit for the 21st century. If that's true then it's even more disappointing that he's allowed himself to be taken down this path by a campaign which plays to the worst aspects of Tory instincts. In the end however it's his decision and he deserves to pay the price for it.
2. Sadiq has stolen a good Lib Dem idea
The Lib Dems in London have been talking about a one hour bus ticket for years. It's a great idea because it gets rid of a really stupid (and discriminatory) pricing anomaly. I can get one bus all the way from the end of my road into the centre of London and pay just £1.50, but if my destination requires a change I have to pay another £1.50, regardless of how far I travel. This matters because generally buses are used by people in lower incomes than those who use trains or the tube (where there is no similar penalty for changing lines), so the people who can least afford it are hit the hardest.
So yes, Sadiq has stolen the idea, and maybe one day he'll be good enough to share credit, but it is a good plan which will genuinely help people, and for that reason alone he gets my vote.
3. Having a British Muslim win this election is a good thing.
I would never use someone's faith as a reason not to vote for them, so it's arguable that I shouldn't use it as a reason to vote for them either. As a born-again atheist I honestly don't care at all about any candidate's religion provided they keep it well away from me, but I do care about the signals we send.
Anyone who does any work with kids from ethnic minority backgrounds (or any other group which comes from a position of disadvantage) will tell you that positive role models play a huge, transformative role in how those kids seem the world. This election therefore provides us with a simple but valuable chance - to give young British Muslim's someone to look up to. This matters because it will show kids across London that you can start where Sadiq Khan started, not try to hide where you're from, and then end up in the highest office in the city.
Whatever you think of the man or his politics, that would be a victory for all of us.
* As well as voting for Caroline you should, even if you can only spare half an hour, volunteer as well. Trust me, you'll have a great time, and it really will help.